The Epistles of Ovid

The Epistles of Ovid
By P. Ovidius Naso
London J. Nunn, Great-Queen-Street; R. Priestly, 143, High-Holborn; R. Lea, Greek-Street, Soho; and J. Rodwell, New-Bond-Street 1813

Perseus Documents Collection Table of Contents

Penelope to Ulysses

Phyllis to Demophoon

Briseis to Achilles

Phaedra to Hippolytus

Oenone to Paris

Hypsipyle to Jason

Dido to Aeneas

Hermione to Orestes

Deianira to Hercules

Ariadne to Theseus

Canace to Macareus

Medea to Jason

Laodamia to Protesilaus

Hypermnestra to Lynceus

Sappho to Phaon

Paris to Helen

Helen to Paris

Leander to Hero

Hero to Leander

Acontius to Cydippe

Cydippe to Acontius

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If you are fond of war, if Iulus is impatient to gather laurels in the field; that every thing may be to your wish, he shall find foes to conquer. Here you may taste the blessings of peace, or engage in the toils of war. I adjure you by your parent Goddess, by the arrows of Cupid your brother; by the Gods of Troy, companions of your flight, (so may all that you bring with you from Troy survive the attacks of fortune, and that war prove the period of your calamities; so may Ascanius fill up the measure of his years, and the bones of old Anchises rest in peace,) have pity on me, whose fate is in your hand; whose only crime is to have loved you too well. I am not of Mycen, or descended from hostile Achilles; nor did my husband or father ever bear arms against you. If you think we unworthy to be your wife, receive me under the name of your hostess. Dido will submit to any thing, if she may be yours. The seas that beat against the

African shore are well known to me. At certain seasons they favor and they frown. When the winds invite you to be gone, you shall spread the swelling sails: now the moored ships are surrounded with floating sea-weed. Let it be my care to observe the season proper for sailing; you shall go, when you may with safety; nor (if you should even desire it) would I suffer you to stay. Your companions will be pleased with a little rest; and the shattered fleet, not completely repaired, requires some delay. I also ask a small respite, if I have any merit with you; if you value my love, or the ties by which I am your's; that the waves and my love may assuage; that by time and use I may learn to bear my sorrows with fortitude. If not, I will end my misery with my life; nor shall it be long in your power to use me thus barbarously. O that you could represent me to yourself as writing this letter! I write, and on my lap lies a drawn sword. The tears flow down my checks upon that weapon, which instead of tears will be soon stained with blood. How well are your

gifts fitted to my destiny! You raise my sepulchre at an easy rate. Nor does this dart now first pierce my breast; it previously felt the wounds of cruel love. And you, my dear sister, the confidante of my guilty flame, shall soon pay the last duty to my unhappy remains. Nor let my monument boast that I was the wife of Sichus; may the marble bear only this inscription: neas afforded the cause and instrument of Dido's death; but she fell by her own hand.

Poem 8

Hermione to Orestes

I, UNHAPPY Hermione, address the man, lately my kinsman and spouse; now my kinsman only; for another possesses the name of husband. Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, impetuous as his sire, forcibly confines me here, contrary to honour and justice. I resisted with all the force which I could exert, that I might not be detained; nor was it in the power of female hands to do more. "What are you doing, grandson of acus?" exclaimed I: "think not that I am without an avenger: the maid whom you injure has a master of her own." But he, more deaf than the raging waves, dragged me by the hair into his hated palace, calling for aid upon the name of Orestes. What could I have suffered

more in the ruin of Lacedmon, had a troop of barbarians led captive the Grecian dames? Triumphant Greece did not so harass unfortunate Andromache, when the wealth of Phrygia became the prey of devouring flames. But, Oh! Orestes, if you have any care or thought of me, assert with courage and resolution your undoubted right. Will you take up arms if any one should break in upon your sheepfolds, and yet be slow to free your wife from violence? Imitate the example of your father-in-law, who boldly reclaimed his ravished spouse, and thought the injury offered him in a woman a sufficient cause of war. Had Menelaus remained indolent in his deserted palace, my mother would have still continued the wife of Paris, as once she was. There is no necessity for a fleet, or powerful army; come only yourself. Not but that I deserve to be demanded back in this manner; nor is it any reproach to a husband, to have waged a furious war for the honor of his nuptial bed. Have we not the same grandfather, Atreus the son of Pelops? And, were you not

my spouse, you are still my kinsman. Both as your wife and kinswoman, I beg your aid; remember that you are under a double tie to this good office. I was given to you by our ancestor Tyndareus, considerable for his experience and years; and one who, as my grandfather, had the undoubted disposal of me. But my father, not knowing this, had given his promise to acides. Surely that of Tyndareus, as first in authority and time, ought to have the preference. When espoused to you, my flame was just and unexceptionable; but if I should be married to Pyrrhus, you will be injured in me. My father Menelaus will easily be brought to approve our love; he himself hath yielded to the winged arrows of the God. He will make such allowance for your love, as he took to himself in his. His attachment to my mother affords an example to excuse ourselves. You are to me, what my father was to Helen; and Pyrrhus acts the part of the Trojan guest of old. Let him boast, without ceasing, of the mighty acts of his father; you also can relate the glorious deeds of yours. The descendant of Tantalus commanded all the Grecian host, even Achilles himself. That Hero headed only a single troop; Agamemnon was general in

chief. You also glory in being of the race of Pelops and Tantalus; and, if you reckon farther, are the fifth in a direct line from the Father of the Gods. Nor are you destitute of courage; but you have borne arms in an invidious cause, constrained to engage in the just revenge of a father's death. Oh! how I wish that you had given proof of your valor in a less direful cause! yet was it not choice, but necessity. You yielded to the urgent call, and shed the blood of that villain gisthus, who had so cruelly murdered your father. But Pyrrhus censures it, and calls that praise-worthy revenge a crime; and even presumes to do it in my presence.

I am distracted; my cheeks, as well as my heart, glow with rage, and my breast is scorched with flames pent up. Shall any one dare to blame Orestes in Hermione's presence? I have indeed neither strength nor arms: but I may shed tears: tears assuage grief; tears flow from my eyes in floods. These alone I always can command, and these I always shed profusely: my neglected cheeks are watered by a continual stream. By this fate of our race, which reaches down even to the present age, we matrons of the house of Tantalus fall a sure prey to every ravisher. I need not mention the deceit of the swan, or how Jupiter lurked under the disguise of feathers. Hippodamia was conveyed by foreign wheels, to where the isthmus stretching to a great length divides two seas. Helen was restored to the Amyclan brothers, Castor and Pollux, from an Attic city. Helen, conveyed beyond sea by an Idan stranger, raised in arms the whole power of Greece to recover her. Scarcely do I remember the time; yet, young as I was, I remember it: all appeared full of grief; all discovered manifest tokens of anxiety and concern. My grandfather wept, as did also her sister and twin brothers: Leda called on the heavenly powers and her own Jove. I myself with tresses torn, which even yet are not long, complained in a mournful voice; Alas, mother, are you gone without me? have you left me behind? for Menelaus was absent. Lo I too, that I might not belie the race of Pelops, am made the prey of hated Neoptolemus. Oh that Achilles had escaped the arrows of Apollo! he would doubtless have condemned the insolence of his son. He neither approved formerly, nor now would have approved, that a forsaken husband should lament the rape of his spouse. What crime of mine has raised

the indignation of the Gods? Unhappy that I am! What ominous star obstructs my felicity? I was deprived of my mother in my earliest youth; my father was engaged in a foreign war; thus, though both were alive, I was destitute of both. I did not, O my mother, in my younger days fondle and flatter you with my prattling tongue; I caught you not round the neck with my infant arms, nor sat, a pleasing load, upon your knee. You had no care of my education, nor was I led by you to the nuptial bed. I came out to meet you at your return, and, to own the truth, I could not distinguish my mother's face. I only fancied you to be Helen, because you were the most beautiful; nor did you know, before a friend informed you, which was your daughter. My only good fortune was the having Orestes for my husband; and he too will be lost, unless he should maintain his right by arms. Pyrrhus hath obtained me from my victorious father; it is all I have gained

by the fall of Troy. When the sun in his resplendent chariot mounts the mid heaven, my misfortunes then suffer some remission; but, when night conceals me in my chambers, howling and heaving bitter groans, and I have thrown myself upon my mournful couch; instead of being closed by sleep, my eyes overflow with tears, and I shun my husband when I can, as I would an enemy. Oft rendered insensible by my misfortunes, and unmindful of the place and persons, I am apt to stretch over Pyrrhus my unwary hand. But as soon as I recollect my error, I start from the hated touch, and think my hands polluted. Oft, instead of Pyrrhus, the name of my Orestes escapes me, and I am glad to interpret the mistake as a good omen. I swear by our unhappy race and its almighty sire, who shakes the earth and seas and heaven by his nod; by the bones of your father, my uncle, which, bravely revenged by your hand, now rest in a peaceful urn: I will either prematurely die, and be extinguished in my early youth, or, as I am a descendant of Tantalus, be married to one of my own race.

Poem 9

Deianira to Hercules

I GIVE you joy that the conquest of chalia is now added to your other trophies; but I am sorry that the conqueror is forced to submit to the conquered. For a report that tends greatly to your dishonor, and which by your actions you must study to discredit, has been suddenly propagated through all the cities

of Greece, that he whom neither the malice of Juno, nor an endless series of toils, could subdue, is now a captive to the charms of Iole. Eurystheus has much longed for this, as has the sister of the Thunderer; and your step-mother triumphs in this stain of your character: but it is far from pleasing him, to whom (if fame can be believed) one night was not sufficient to beget you, great as you are. Venus has injured you more than Juno. The wife of Jove raised, by endeavouring to depress you: the other goddess keeps your neck beneath her footstool. Think how the world lies hushed in peace by your avenging arm, where-ever the blue ocean circles this vast tract of earth. To thee the earth is indebted for peace, and the sea for a safe navigation: thy glory hath filled both houses of the sun. You previously bore up the heavens, that must at length bear you; Atlas, by your aid, supported the stars. Yet all this tends

only to spread abroad your shame, if your former brave deeds are stained by an infamous miscarriage. Are you not said to have wrung to death two horrid snakes, when, young and in your cradle, you shewed yourself worthy of your father Jupiter? You began with more honor than you are like to end: the last parts of your life fall short of the first. How preposterous to shew yourself a man in this, in that a child! He whom not a thousand monsters, not the son of Sthenelus, his obstinate enemy, not implacable Juno could vanquish, is yet vanquished by love. But I am thouht honorably wedded, because I am called the wife of Hercules, and boast of him for my father-in-law, who, riding on his fiery steeds, rends the poles with his thunder. As when unequal steers are yoked in the same plough, so does the wife of inferior degree suffer from her mighty husband. A rank that oppresses, is no honor, but a burthen. She who desires to wed well, will do wisely to wed with her equal. My lord is ever absent; and a stranger is better known to him than his wife: he is always in pursuit of monsters and ferocious beasts. Oft I ad-

dress Heaven with chaste vows, and tremble in my solitary home, lest my husband should fall by some savage enemy. My imagination hurries me amidst serpents, boars, furious lions, and three-headed devouring dogs. The entrails of the sacrifices, the vain phantoms of sleep, and secret omens of night, alarm me. I am terrified with every surmise of doubtful fame, and feel the full misery of a breast racked by alternate hope and fear. Your mother is absent, and complains that ever her charms engaged the notice of a powerful God. I have neither the society of your father Amphitryon, nor that of your son Hyllus. I feel only Eurystheus, the minister of Juno's unjust rage, and the unrelenting wrath of that goddess. But it is not difficult to bear this. You add also foreign loves; and any one may be a mother by you. I shall not speak either of

Auge deflowered in the vales of Arcadia, or of your offspring by Astydamia, the daughter of Ormenus. You shall not be reproached with the fifty sisters of the house of Theutrantes, all of whom you debauched in one night. Your late crime I resent, in preferring an adulteress to me; by whom I am made stepmother to Lydian Lamus.